Base Assumptions for Being Agile

Last week, my colleague, Ilan Kirschenbaum, and one of my agile mentors, published in his blog post “Recipe for becoming a scrum master”.
I really related to his post, because it is actually tracing the steps I went through on the way to become an agile coach (and I continue repeating those steps every day, this blog post is an evidence :)).
Still, I have something to add – some base assumptions I have embraced during the way, which I think worth sharing.
A moment of honesty, the idea for this post came up during NLP lesson, I have recently started. The following base assumptions are also the foundation for the NLP, so I (or we) did not invent anything new here – it is just perfectly blended into being agile.

So, let’s begin with the first one, and for me, it was also the hardest one to acknowledge and embrace.

First assumption:

Everyone is doing the best they can (with the resources they have available)

I am going back to the days, I was a product owner. We are now a day after releasing a new version to our biggest customer, and the moment this version is installed for the first time, a new critical bug is introduced to me. Everyone is in huge stress. I am starting to investigate, and I come to realize that R&D knew on that limitation and did not bother to share this knowledge with me. Sounds familiar, right?

I was so furious! Immediately went to speak with my agile mentor (it was Elad Sofer), and told him: “They did it again! They knew about this bug, but of course, they chose to hide it, and hope that the customer will not find out – they are just playing it”. Elad then told me: “Come down, Always remember, people behave the best they can, no one purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes or create difficulty”.

At that moment it was laborious for me to face it, I think I even was angry at Elad for protecting them. However, after some time, I cannot point to the specific moment, I became a system thinker and understood there is no point in blaming, the system is more complex than just the cause and result.
Unfortunately, we tend to take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves. The moment we realize that people always do the best they can, given whatever tools and resources they have, and the circumstances and situations they are experiencing, it usually calms me down and creates a sense of empathy and compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself – allow me to take step back and look for the causal loop diagram, find the arrow that can alter in a positive way. The power of this statement resonated with me deeply even in my personal life.

Second assumption:

In any situation you have at least 3 options

In whatever situation, no matter if it is a decision you need to take, or a path to select – you always have at least 3 options:

  1. To continue what you are doing
  2. To do the opposite
  3. To look on the situation from a fresh perspective and do something new

For example: You are the scrum master, and you feel that the team performance are standing still. Your first assumption is that the action items from the retrospective are being ignored. At that stage you have already tried what you always do – gather the team and give them a motivation pitch with the feedback base on your observation. However, 3 iterations and nothing changes.. So what can you do??

  1. To continue what you have already tried before, another talk, another motivation pitch. Maybe you can even take this, 1 step forward, talk about this issue in 1:1 with the team members – maybe then something in their mind is going to change.
  2. Ignore it, do nothing, the team is tired of talking, they need to face the problem – the moment they will raise this issue, we will handle it in the retrospective.
  3. Look at the situation from another perspective – maybe your assumption is wrong. Maybe there is something that is not being talked in the retrospective. Maybe you need to go back to the books and look for a new way to do a retrospective.
  4. What can you, as the scrum master, do different?  Have you tried to add the action items from the retrospective as a user story to the sprint? Have you tried to use popcorn board? (If you do not know what is popcorn board – google it, or wait for my next post ;))

From my experience,  usually when you find the third option, you will easily, also find the fourth and fifth option.
When you have only one option in your mind – it means you do not have any choice (think of it as you are going into elections with only one political party :(. When you have 2 options, it is the obvious choice, what you know and the opposite.  With three options you can start seeing real options. The moment you are able to choose from a range of options, it means you are not forced to do anything. You are able to act from a place of autonomy and free will, which is incredibly important value for you.
The coolest thing about this practice – that it is the easiest assumption to embrace, you just need to remember to try.

Third assumption:

It’s Not Failure, only Feedback

As an agile coach, in order to gain a new customer I must participate in marketing meeting. Usually the customer prefers to continue with the same coach, he met in the first meeting  – don’t ask me why 🙂 I can be in the meeting and not saying a word,  just nod and smile, and still he will prefer to work with me than with other coach, he has never seen – this was just an example, who ever know me, knows that there is no way, that in one hour meeting, I will have nothing to say 😉
However, in the first time I went to a marketing meeting by myself, I really screwed it up. I lost my confidence, and the meeting lost its focus. I felt horrible, I failed.
At that moment, I thought to myself “what the hell happened there?” I could take it as one time failure and hope next time will be better, but instead I took it as a feedback. I told myself: “I know I am very good at what I am doing, so why did I lose my confidence?”
I understood, that even though I am an agile expert, I feel uncomfortable when I need to market myself as one, and I need to work on this. I started to view marketing presentation of people who know how to leave a mark, and decided to register to NLP course, in order to gain new skills that can help me feel more comfortable. I can assure you, in the next meeting, you have already been able to notice the difference.
It’s so easy for us to think that we’ve failed if we don’t get the result or outcome that we desire. That’s an effect of the black and white thinking that you’re conditioned to accept as a default. When you take any failure as a feedback, you can learn something in any situation, no matter how unpleasant. You acutely never fail, unless you gave up.

Although those assumptions as very basic, being aware of them had a big impact on my professional and personal life.
How did this post make you feel? Please share your thoughts with me, and write a comment. I will be really happy to read it – I promise to respond 🙂

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

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